Two new undergrad texts in economics (Econ-101) are to be published soon: one by Paul Krugman (with Robin Wells) and the other by Glenn Hubbard (with Anthony O'Brien). Their prices? Just check them at Amazon later, but you can bet that they will be priced near $100. At those prices, I think students in India will wait for their Indian editions.
These two texts will be going up against an established one, written by another heavyweight: Greg Mankiw. Price? A very cool $138.95! Before you come back to the earth, let me push you into the stratosphere again by another factlet: Mankiw reportedly got a 1.4 million dollar advance in 1997 when its first edition was published.
Clearly, textbook prices are going up, and going up fast. In his NYTimes op-ed, Ian Ayres, a professor at Yale Law School, discusses why they are outpacing the inflation rate, and what can be done about it. Another issue he discusses is about authors prescribing their own books as texts for their courses; this, clearly, creates a conflict of interest. He discusses a mechanism for dealing with this conflict too.
Evidently, the availability of good -- and reasonably inexpensive -- books is important. In India, this was a problem until a few years ago. During our undergraduate days in the early eighties, access to good text books (there were hardly any texts in metallurgy or materials science by Indian authors those days; the situation is not much different even now) was only through the (well stocked) library in our Department in IT-BHU. Remember, there were no xerox machines those days!
The only foreign book we could afford was the great Resnick and Halliday for physics. Even here, there is a twist; the edition that we used was at least one (probably two) edition behind the latest in use elsewhere! Reason: only this older edition (that was re-printed in India) was affordable; the latest edition could be found only in our library.
That was then, and this is now. When I walk into our Institute's bookstore, what hits me is the sheer variety of books on programming. Java, C++, C, C#, Unix, Linux, Python, Perl, Tcl/Tk, EJB, AJAX, ... You name it, they have a book on it. I think I even saw books on B+, B, B-, C+ ... ;-)
There is a wide choice of texts available in other subjects too, but the choice is the largest for programming.
The availability of lots of good textbooks at reasonable prices has been one of the major revolutions in India in the last dozen years or so. Invariably, they are all 'Indian editions' of texts used elsewhere. I like to call them 'Indian-made foreign books! But unlike in the past, they are all quite 'current'; many are published within six months of their appearance in the Western countries.
Many of them are written by American authors, with a clear, easy-to-follow presentation. They are well designed, with lots of white space for esthetics and for writing your notes; they have nice pictures and drawings that our older books lacked (we don't see much colour yet, though the original American versions have colour pages and pictures). All these wonders are available for reasonable prices in the range of Rs. 200 to 500.
The IMFBs have made access to pedagogically oriented texts far more accessible. Another good thing is that they have set the benchmark for Indian authors of textbooks. Students may still buy the far cheaper, poorly written books by their own university professors for other -- er, well known -- reasons, but real learning -- available in IMFB's -- is now accessible.
More importantly, for the publishers, this phenomenon has reduced the need for xeroxing; so, they get at least some money that they would otherwise not have gotten at all.
Bottomline: there indeed is money at the bottom of the pyramid. It may not be much (now), but it will only grow.